Pepe the Frog ()
“Feels good, man,” was the original catchphrase of Pepe the Frog, a comic strip character that grew into an internet meme and was later co-opted by white supremacists—to the dismay of the character’s creator Matt Furie.
But Furie might now be sharing the frog’s outlook, after a team from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr used copyright law to halt distribution of a controversial children’s book that reportedly pushed anti-Islamic and white nationalist viewpoints.
Representing Furie pro bono, Wilmer’s Louis Tompros and Don Steinberg secured a settlement on Monday with Eric Hauser, a former Dallas-area assistant principal who authored and self-published the children’s book at the heart of the conflict—”The Adventures of Pepe and Pede.” The book featured a frog character named Pepe and a centipede sidekick named Pede, contained allusions to conservative political themes, and had as its primary antagonist a bearded alligator named “Alkah,” according to multiple media reports.
Under the settlement, Hauser admitted to infringing Furie’s copyright on the Pepe the Frog character and agreed to destroy all copies of the children’s book. Hauser will also have to turn over the $1,521.54 he made in profits as a donation to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
“From our client’s perspective, the message that he wants to make clear is that Pepe the Frog does not belong to the alt-right,” said Tompros, a Boston-based Wilmer partner.
The original rendition of Pepe the Frog, which first appeared more than a decade ago in Furie’s comic “Boy’s Club,” was meant to be a “peaceful frog-dude” who was “blissfully stoned,” Furie once said. Since then, the character has taken on a life of its own as part of an internet meme, and eventually became associated with the “alt right” segment of the white supremacist movement.
In light of those developments, Furie last year partnered with the Anti-Defamation League—which had designated Pepe the Frog as a hate symbol—to try to reclaim the character in a campaign known as #SavePepe. But when Furie caught wind of Hauser’s book, he decided it was time to take formal legal action and linked up with Wilmer by way of a connection through a family friend, Tompros said.
Led by Tompros and Steinberg, chairman of the firm’s intellectual property department, the Wilmer team acted quickly. They made it clear that they were prepared to file suit, if necessary, but ultimately ended up reaching the agreement with Hauser to stop his book, said Tompros.
The Wilmer team had an easy time deciding to take up Furie’s cause on a pro bono basis, according to Tompros. As he explained, lawyers in other practice areas, such as constitutional law or immigration, often find opportunities to use their specialties for good causes that reach beyond the concerns of their typical corporate clients. But it’s far less common for intellectual property lawyers to get the same sort of chance to apply their expertise directly to a pro bono case.
“It became very clear to us very quickly that this was something that was worthwhile to take on a pro bono basis,” said Tompros. “It was a pretty easy choice to do it pro bono to help take Pepe back.”